Personal Injury Contexts: Understanding Punitive Damages

When a person is injured due to the negligence or intentional actions of another, they may file a personal injury lawsuit to recover compensation for their losses. In addition to compensatory damages that cover medical bills, lost wages, and other economic losses, the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit may also be awarded punitive damages.

Types of personal injury cases in which punitive damages may be awarded include the following:

  • Vehicle accidents
  • Drunk or reckless driving cases
  • Slip and fall accidents
  • Medical malpractice cases
  • Defective product cases
  • Workplace accidents

In this blog post, we will explore what punitive damages are, when they might be awarded, and how an experienced personal injury lawyer can help an injured victim pursue them.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are a type of compensation intended to punish the defendant for their conduct and deter others from engaging in similar behavior. Unlike compensatory damages, which are designed to support the plaintiff’s recovery, punitive damages are awarded on top of compensatory damages to hold the defendant accountable for their actions.

Punitive damages may be awarded in cases where the defendant's conduct was particularly egregious or reckless. However, it is important to note that to receive punitive damages, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant's conduct was willful, wanton, or reckless.

Examples of situations where punitive damages may be awarded include cases involving:

  • Drunk driving accidents
  • Intentional harm
  • Gross negligence
  • Fraudulent conduct

Though we are often asked about punitive damages, it is relatively uncommon for them to be awarded. This is largely due to the higher burden of proof necessary to be successful.

How Are Punitive Damages Calculated?

Punitive damages are typically calculated based on the severity of the defendant's conduct and the harm caused to the plaintiff. The amount of punitive damages awarded is generally left up to the discretion of the jury or judge. In some states, including Pennsylvania, there may be caps on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded in general and/or for certain types of cases, such as medical malpractice.

For example, according to 40 Pa. Stat. § 1303.505, in a medical malpractice case against an individual physician, punitive damages cannot exceed 200% of the compensatory damages awarded in the case. Relatedly, if punitive damages are going to be awarded, they cannot be for less than $100,000, unless a lower amount is specified by the judge/jury.

Why Do You Need an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer?

If you were seriously injured or have lost a family member or loved one due to the actions of another, it is vital to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer. Your attorney can help you understand your legal options for seeking compensation, including whether seeking punitive damages is appropriate.

An experienced lawyer, like ours at Golomb Legal, P.C., can help you throughout your case, including with tasks like gathering evidence to support your claim for punitive damages or advocating for you in court. A skilled attorney can also help you navigate the complex legal process and ensure that your rights are protected.

Do you have questions about seeking punitive damages as part of your personal injury or wrongful death case? Contact our law firm online to schedule a consultation.